Oct 31, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) go for the ball in the first half of the game at Staples Center.Clippers won 125-115. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Roundtable Discussion: Pacific Division

This is HoopsHabit’s Roundtable Discussion. Each week, five questions will be sent to the staff writers covering the teams in a specific division. This week, we cover the Pacific division.

1. Biggest surprise in the division?

Jacob Hammond, Kings columnist- Gotta be the Phoenix Suns, they were picked by many to finish dead last in the West and right now they look like a playoff team. Even with the injury to Eric Bledsoe, they have still played some great basketball. Goran Dragic and Miles Plumlee look like All-Stars with their play.

Gerald Bourguet, Asst. Editor, Warriors/Suns columnist- Even though they’re starting to slip in the playoff race out West with Eric Bledsoe sidelined, the biggest surprise of the season still has to be the Phoenix Suns. This team was expected to be Philadelphia’s main competition for a top lottery spot. It wasn’t just the experts that thought the Suns would be terrible; EVERYONE thought they’d be terrible. But the Suns are still clinging to the 7th seed in the West and if Bledsoe hadn’t needed surgery on that meniscus, this team could’ve realistically competed for the fifth seed. Phoenix isn’t just the surprise of the division, they’re the surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season.

Phil Watson, Asst. Editor- Phoenix, without question. No one saw this team getting anywhere near .500, much less contending for a playoff spot.

Shane Young, Lakers/Pacers columnist- For me, its a race between the Phoenix Suns looking revived under Head Coach Jeff Hornacek and the Lakers appearing to finish last in the division.  Our entire panel predicted the Suns to miss the playoffs, but the cohesiveness between Dragic and Bledsoe has been better than I imagined before the season.  When Bledsoe is able to return from injury, we could see them in a first round matchup against a top tier West team.  That shall be entertaining.

2. Best player in the division?

Hammond- DeMarcus Cousins, he is seventh in the league in scoring at 23.4 points, fifth in the league in rebounds with 11.6, and he averages three assists per game. He is playing like the best big man in the game right now. In addition the Kings are looking like a better team with the trades they have made and are building something in Sacramento.

Bourguet- Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are both injured right now, so I’m going to go with Stephen Curry. Curry’s struggled shooting the ball lately, posting 36 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range in his last five games. But he remains one of the most dangerous and entertaining players in the NBA for his ability to make absurdly difficult shots around, over and sometimes, through defenders. A healthy Chris Paul obviously challenges Curry for this designation, but since Curry was snubbed last year for an All-Star spot, let’s give him some much-deserved recognition.
Watson- It’s still Chris Paul, even though he’s out. The guy can beat you in so many ways–scoring, playmaking, defense.
Young- When he’s HEALTHY, it’s Kobe Bean Bryant.  When Bryant is out, it automatically goes to Chris Paul (who is also sidelined).  It’s a shame the two best players have been forced to missed time this season.  Bryant’s veteran skill, complete arsenal, and leadership will be there for the Lakers in the next month and he will look to show the naysayers who is still the boss of the league.  Chris Paul would have had a strong case for MVP if he didn’t go down with the shoulder injury, posting a PER rating of 27.41, the highest among point guards.  You can’t go wrong with either of the two healthy.  Not giving Stephen Curry the chance for this recognition yet.
3. Who will win the division?
Hammond- The Clippers should win the division, but with the injury to Chris Paul, I believe the Warriors will be the Pacific Division champs in the end. With Andre Iguodala on the floor this team is tough to beat, because now they can also play defense. Furthermore, David Lee does not get enough credit for the player that he is. Lee is the key, for me, to the Warriors playoff success.
Bourguet- Swaggy P and the Lakers! No, just kidding. With Bledsoe out for about five more weeks, this is a two-team race for the division between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. However, Chris Paul has been out and will continue to sit for a few weeks. The Clips are 4-1 without CP3, but the only team with a winning record they beat during that stretch was Dallas. Eventually, not having the most well-rounded point guard in the NBA will hurt Lob City. Despite Steph Curry’s recent shooting struggles, the Warriors have to be the favorites since they’re 20-5 when Mark Jackson‘s preferred starting five is healthy.
Watson- The Clippers, provided Paul gets back on time and on schedule with no ill effects from the shoulder.
Young-  Los Angeles Clippers, hands down.  Despite Golden State coming together recently and having a great month, the Clippers have just been proving they don’t need Chris Paul to stay ahead in the win column.  Come April, Paul and Griffin will know how important it is to win the last week of games and secure home court advantage.
4. If Kobe Bryant returns and plays the rest of the season, how many points will he score per game?

Hammond- By the time Kobe does return the team will be in dead last in the West, and more than likely Pau Gasol will have been traded away, so it will be Kobe and a bunch of nobodies. So he will be the whole offense and will average a ton of shots per game so I would say 20-25 points per game.

Bourguet- I’ll say 14 points per game and be generous but the real answer is who cares? Not because I dislike Kobe, but because Lakers fans couldn’t care less at this point, just as long as he’s out there to distract them from the ongoing misery of their first losing season in God knows how long. The NBA is at its best when its stars are healthy, but the Lakers are irrelevant this year even if Kobe Bryant is on the floor. Here’s hoping Kobe can finish out the season strong once he does return, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Watson- He’ll wind up somewhere in the 18 to 20 point range. His scoring was already starting to increase in just six games back before he hurt the knee.
Young- I believe Kobe will average 23-24 points per game upon returning, simply because he has something to prove.  The team isn’t going anywhere, but this has been a lost season for Bryant.  He still wants to show he is the most lethal scorer in basketball, but it may be tough at first.  At the end of the year, we’ll probably see him hit the 30-point mark a few times.

5. Where will the Suns finish in the West?

Hammond- It is going to be hard for the Suns to make the playoffs with Memphis getting healthy, Dallas willing to make deals, and Denver finding its stride. The Suns are playing great and will be in the discussion, but I believe they will finish 9th or 10th, just out of the playoffs.

Bourguet- Thanks to the cruelty of the basketball gods, they’ll finish right where I warned every team in the Western Conference NOT to be: fringe playoff territory. With Bledsoe was on the floor, they might have pulled off a playoff upset depending on their first-round matchup. But his absence hinders Phoenix’s ability to climb the standings and they’ll likely finish the season in the seven or eight seed, which means a first-round elimination. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, they’ll be close enough to ruin their chances at a franchise-changing draft pick. With the loaded 2014 NBA Draft class inbound, the two best options for every team were either contend for a title or tank your brains out. The Suns were never contending for a title, but Bledsoe’s injury puts them right in the middle, the worst place to be.

Watson- The next four to six weeks are crucial for the Suns. If they can stay afloat until Bledsoe is back, Phoenix can finish as high as seventh out West. But if he’s not effective when he gets back, they could slide as far as 10th or 11th.

Young- Phoenix has a young core, the fourth youngest team in the NBA.  They’ll have the energy and desire to make a run in April, likely allowing them to finish 7th or 8th in the West.  The only reason it’s hard to put them higher is because I believe the Denver Nuggets will join the mix and win more games down the stretch.  It’s going to be an even tighter race at the bottom of the West than last season. 

Tags: Golden State Warriors Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers NBA Phoenix Suns Sacramento Kings

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